Employer retention is now “pretty close to the No. 1” priority for The Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, Economic Development Vice President Tricia Ryan said.
While The Chamber always has made retention calls on employers, staff is now taking a more aggressive approach toward reaching out to local manufacturers to find out what they need, Ryan said. The economic recession has heightened the need for the organization to put more focus on supporting and retaining manufacturers in the area, she said.
“We’ve just kind of tweaked it and put some new pieces in place,” said Ryan, who joined The Chamber this summer as economic development chief. “The program is really just now getting up and running.”
The goal is to ensure that every manufacturer that is a member of The Chamber receives at least one retention visit a year.
Participating in retention visits are Ryan, Training Services Manager Nancy Manglos and a representative from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The chamber staff also tries to organize meetings so a representative from the local township or city government can attend.
The 20 firms visited so far have raised a myriad of issues, including accessing high-speed Internet service, upgrading public utility lines, bidding on federal contracts, help on preparing requests for tax abatements, direction on going through the local approval process for a plant expansion and connecting with local vendors and service providers.
At the top of the list has been assistance in workforce development, many times through identifying sources of training and securing economic development grants to help pay for training, Ryan said.
Chamber staffers also are learning that unless they initiate the contact, businesses are reluctant to come forward with issues and problems, she said.
“We’re picking up a lot of issues that, for whatever reasons, they weren’t picking up the phone and saying, ‘Hey, this is a problem,’” Ryan said.
In placing a renewed and higher emphasis on retention visits, The Chamber wants “to really make sure we know what’s going on in industry so we could help them,” President Joy Gaasch said.
“This is going to be an ongoing priority for our organization long term,” Gaasch said. “Every business has to take care of its customers and we’re taking care of ours.”
Stepping up recruitment visits to manufacturers comes as The Chamber is drafting updated economic development goals.
In addition to the retention visits, The Chamber operates the Ambassador Program that uses volunteers to maintain regular communications with retail and professional services members. The organization has more than 600 member businesses.